Tuesday, November 21, 2000

The coat was right. Carson saw it hanging from the ceiling, above the racks, shining blue-black , like the hair of beautiful and dark women.
He edged past a woman with purple hair holding a beaded dress draped in front of her, stretched up to look at the coat. Small neat handwriting on the tag said it was made from monkey skins, in the ‘40s.
But it was $700.
He’d bought her a fur coat three years before, when the company had handed him a surprising $1,100 bonus at the end of the year.
“Good for a fur coat,” the card said, 11 $100 bills in the envelope, propped in the branches of their artificial Christmas tree. That turned out to be not much money in a fur store. The coat was coyote faces, long, to her knees and her tall brown leather boats. When they left the store he lagged a step or two behind on the street. staring at her back., trying to find the features in the patterns of light and dark brown, the sun bright white off the snow.
She had stopped wearing it about a year later.
“Is it because of the fur thing?” he’d finally asked her, pretending to have just noticed.
Liz had switched from wine to vodka then, kept icy in the freezer. She took a sip, licked her upper lip, slid off the counter to move into the living room, so he could half see her through the opening to the kitchen.
“No, it’s not that. I just don’t want to wear it right now.”
Carson had been chopping a yellow pepper into thin strips, the pieces leaving the knife like small twisting animals.
“It looked good, I thought.”
But she didn’t answer and hadn't worn the coat.
He reached high, touched the monkey skin coat, soft, not what he expected, like a child’s hair.
They put the coat in a box for him, folded in a tissue paper nest. He was lighter, the box under his arm, a little bounce in his step when he crossed the street. Standing on the bus he leaned back against the pole with both hands in his pockets, the box tucked under his arm, bending his knees and balancing when the bus stopped or went around corners.
The air even smelled different when he got off outside the condo. Raw earth, like someone had been pawing at the muddy ground, and a softness that came from the ocean, even though they were almost four miles inland.
She was in the kitchen. They had laughed when they bought the place at even calling the narrow space a kitchen, a counter and gas stove on one side, fridge and sink on the other, barely enough room for two people to pass. In the first weeks, Liz had sat on the counter, drinking wine, while he played cook, pasta and rice and seafood, bread from the breadmaker.
Now she was eating an apple cut into small sections. He held the box behind him, watched her dip the apple into the vodka, hold it submerged as if the thick liquid could freeze it.
“I got you something,” he said, and before she could think what to say slide the box towards her.
“What is it?” Liz didn’t move. She was just home from the office.
“A surprise, that’s all. It seemed right.”
Carson set it on the counter beside her, called to her from the next room as he hung his coat up.
“Open it. It won’t hurt you.”
Liz was staring at him when he came around the corner. She hadn’t touched the box.
“It’s a gift.” She kept watching, and he edged past, careful not to touch her, poured a large glass of her vodka.
He leaned against the counter, waited until she pulled the box open.
“It’s a coat. I saw it at Second Chance, and thought of you.”
She touched it, pulled a sleeve loose from the box and held it lightly in her hand, white fingers on blue-black.
“It’s monkey skins.” He took a drink, watched her as she just stared at the coat. “It’s vintage.”
He couldn’t see her eyes. Her head was tilted forward and her hair, a dark brown, hung in front of her face.
“You really shouldn’t have.”
“Try it on. See if it fits.”
“You really shouldn't have,” she said, quietly.
“Please,” he said. “Just try it on.”
Liz walked across the kitchen and touched the switch, making the lights brighter. She got the vodka, poured the glass half full, it coming out like heavy syrup, turning the outside of the glass white with frost. She took a drink, and her eyes shone.
“You don’t want to do this, do you?”
“I just want to see if it fits, if it’s you. Just try it on.”
“And it’s monkey skins?”
He nodded.
Liz pulled the sweater over her head, got it tangled in her hair, threw it over his head into the eating area. She had on a cream bra, and took it off too, then undid the skirt and let it fall to the floor, kicked off her underwear. Her feet were bare.
The coat looked even blacker in the bright light and against her white skin. It came to halfway to her knees. Her thighs were white, with a thin blue vein running under the skin inside her left leg.
“All right?” She brushed her hair back and looked at him, held her arms out from her side, the coat, unbuttoned, stretching open. “All right?”
She turned slowly, all the way around. Her arms were still out, brushed against the wall. He saw the monkey skins, hundreds it must have taken, draped over her, white and black, soft and shiny.
“All right?”
She dropped the coat from her shoulders, let it slide to the floor behind her, and stared at him.
“I’ll be back for my things,” she said, and turned and walked into the bedroom to dress. He folded the coat carefully before he put it back in the box.